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Chimo: Canada's Attempt at a New National Greeting

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The long-standing friendly rivalry between Canada and the U.S. began when the real fighting stopped after the War of 1812. And ever since, Canadians have complained of seeping Americanization—in their books, magazines, cars—advertising. Even Johnny Canuck, Canadians’ cartoon hero, was supposed to be a younger cousin to Uncle Sam.

In 1969, Canadians' favourite politician, Pierre Trudeau, told reporters in Washington, D.C., “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”

Like it or not, we’re pretty close.

Say Chimo

Attempts to shirk the reach of American culture (and British parenting) and establish a truly Canadian one produced a lesson in politics.

In 1967, politicians shoved the word “chimo” into the Canadian English lexicon in an attempt to create a national greeting. Like, “Chimo, do you want to hang out at my cabin this weekend?” “Cool, I’ll pick you up at seven, chimo.” Yes, it’s a one-word phrase to mean hello, goodbye or “let’s drink!”; taken from the northern Canadian Inuktitut language as an act of federal government.

Evidence that the word "chimo" ever existed can be experienced at the Chimo Hotel in Ottawa, heard by toasting Canadian Military Engineers, or as the name of Toronto jazz/rock super group—“one of the shortest lived great bands of all time”—Chimo!

Canadian Idol

The folks behind Canadian Content (CanCon) make sure that a strict percentage of radio play and TV shows aired in the country are Canadian made. For radio that means 40 percent of airtime goes to Canadian musicians—a good thing for Celine Dion fans—and 50 percent of prime time TV.

Forcing broadcasters in the late 1960s to include Canadian-made sitcoms, game shows and dramas among popular imports from the U.S. and Britain helped undermine the possibility of them being any good.

Look no further than the 1970 sitcom The Trouble with Tracy, considered one of the worst shows ever. It had an all-Canadian cast, but was set in New York to win over U.S. sales, according to Pip Wedge, president of the Canadian Communications Foundation. During the season it ran, they managed to crank out 130 shows; filming seven in five days.

See also: Canadian Idol, The Bachelor Canada, The Amazing Race Canada, etc.

Burning Down the House

Ask an American about the War of 1812 and they might shrug and mention the Star Spangled Banner. Canadians know it better as the war they won against America in which they burned down the White House.

Even though Canada was technically a British colony at the time, it’s still fresh in the mind of Canadians as one of the country’s greatest feats. This video explains everything:

History buffs would say that the outcome of the War of 1812 was more or less a tie. But don’t tell that to the Canadian government, which is spending $28 million on re-enactments and statues for the war’s bicentennial, going on now until 2014. As Heritage Minister James Moore told the CBC, people can debate whether it’s money well spent, but "it's an essential role for government to remind Canadians what unites us."

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Food
A Brief History of Poutine
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Walk down a street after a hard night of drinking in Montréal and you’d be hard-pressed not seeing someone gorging themselves on poutine, a high-calorie classic staple of Québécois casse-croûtes—or “greasy spoon”—cuisine.

Just what is poutine, you ask? The delicious Canadian dish is comprised of a holy-hoser trinity of ingredients: French fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Try some yourself and you’ll be hooked. It’s become so popular that it’s readily available at certain restaurants in the U.S. (Lucky New Yorkers can get their hands on some traditional poutine at Brooklyn restaurant Mile End.) Otherwise, the dish has become so ubiquitous in its home province that even McDonald’s and Burger King sell it as a side.

Much like the debate in the U.S. about the origins of the hamburger, poutine has similarly unclear beginnings. The most widespread claim for inventing poutine comes from the small dairy-farming town of Warwick, Québec, where, in 1957, a customer asked restaurateur Fernand Lachance to throw cheese curds and French fries—items the owner sold separately at his restaurant L’Idéal (later renamed Le lutin qui rit, or “The Laughing Elf”)—together in one bag because the customer was in a rush. Legend has it when Lachance peered into the bag after the two ingredients were mixed together, he remarked, “This is a ‘poutine,’” using the joual—or Québécois slang—for a "mess.”

Noticeably absent from Lachance’s cobbled-together recipe is the gravy ingredient, which was added to the mix in 1964 when a restaurant-owner in nearby Drummondville, Quebec named Jean-Paul Roy noticed a few of his diners ordering a side of cheese curds to add to the patented gravy sauce and fries dish at his restaurant, Le Roy Jucep. Roy soon added the three-ingredient item on his menu and the rest is delicious, gravy-soaked history.

Eventually, poutine spread across the province and throughout Canada—with different combinations added to the fries, curds, and gravy recipe—but the original remains the most recognized and honored. It even initially made its way to the United States by way of New Jersey, where an altered recipe known as “Disco Fries” substitutes shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese for the Canadian curds.

But if you ever find yourself in Montréal and have a hankering for greasy food, be sure to order it correctly. Anglophones usually pronounce the word as “poo-teen,” but if you want to pass for a real Québécois, it’s pronounced “poo-tin.”  

This story originally ran in 2013.

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language
15 Colorful Canadian Slang Terms
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Americans looking to take a trip across their country's northern border might find themselves bewildered by some Canadian turns of phrase. It is, after all, a place where people go out for a rip to the beer store and plunk down their loonies to pick up a two-four. Pretty confusing, eh? But fear not. For all you keeners who want to learn how to speak like a Canuck, here’s a handy chart to help you master Canadian slang, courtesy of Expedia.ca.

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